The resignation of the Bulgarian cabinet sees a predictable deep dispute among rival political camps about its legacy.
The subject of widespread public demands for its resignation soon after its May 2013 appointment, the cabinet either leaves the country in a state of collapse or has rescued it from a state of collapse – depending where you stand.
Centre-right GERB opposition leader Boiko Borissov repeatedly has underlined his view that the cabinet, appointed with the mandate handed to the Bulgarian Socialist Party that his party pushed down into second place in last year’s parliamentary elections, has done damage to Bulgaria that will take years to repair.
The outgoing cabinet, nominally headed by Plamen Oresharski, has been at the centre of so many controversies in the past 14 months that just a few may be highlighted.
In the final days before the Oresharski resignation, GERB alleged that the year following the coming to power of the cabinet had seen the country reduced to a poor economic state, while at the same time ministers had spent huge sums of money on salaries, bonuses, fees, outside services and other expenses.
Senior GERB MP Liliyana Pavlova said that just 11 ministries had in a year handed out salaries, bonuses and other benefits adding up to more than 13 million leva (about 6.5 million euro).
Pavlova told a news conference that in recent weeks, “the dimensions of widely distributed expenditure on salaries, bonuses, consultant services and other services, travel, business trips and other voyages of public officials have swelled to such an extent that there are administrations that do not have enough funds for overhead costs, electricity and wages”.
GERB said that ministries had been widely contracting and handsomely paying anonymous consultants for their services, which are supposed to be part of the administration’s work.
In some cases, civil contracts providing for lavish payments to the contractors had been signed for “verbal consultations”.
The ministries also had been paying large bonuses for the achievement of results in sectors plagued by dramatic problems, going by information provided to GERB MPs as a result of questions tabled in Parliament.
Spending and rising indebtedness of Bulgaria are only some of the charges that the opposition levels against the outgoing government. Other important criticisms are that those in power have made an even bigger hash of the energy sector, with dire consequences for years to come, including from the policy (managed through the “independent” regulator) of artificially keeping electricity prices from increasing.
The opposition has made much of the reverses regarding EU funds and the suspension of payments for some operational programmes. Borissov has been at pains to point out that there appeared to be a direct connection between the BSP holding office and the suspension of EU funds – a reference to the 2005/09 tripartite coalition cabinet under BSP leader Sergei Stanishev which saw hundreds of millions of EU funds for Bulgaria suspended.
Those who have been in this cabinet take, as may be expected, a contrary view.
Oresharski, in an interview with local media a few days before his resignation, said that in spite of the political crisis, all economic indicators were rising by the end of May.
The business climate was more positive and the government’s Eurobond issue had been the most successful in recent history, he said.
Oresharski conceded that the deficit for the first half of 2014 was higher than that of recent years at the same time, but he said that the difference was entirely borne by the pre-financing of European projects.
When these amounts were recovered in the next month or two, “the situation will improve significantly and will probably be better than in recent years”.
Separately, on July 23, Kornelia Ninova, the BSP MP who heads the parliamentary committee on labour and social policy and also is one of several candidates for the leadership of the BSP at its special congress to be held on July 27, said that in one year of the government, 13 billion leva in support had reached four million Bulgarians in various ways to help their lives, with beneficiaries including children, young families, young uemployed, people with disabilities, veterans and victims of war and employees who did not receive benefits from companies that had gone bankrupt.
In a critical commentary for Deutsche Welle, journalist Alexander Andreev wrote that apart from the Delyan Peevski scandal, when the controversial figure was made head of the State Agency for National Security (such was public ire that anti-government protests continued long after the appointment was rescinded), the weak Oresharski cabinet had embarked on redistribution, wandered in confused economic and energy sector solutions and on top of it all, had slept through the looming banking crisis that nearly erupted in the country.
The commentary noted that international observers continually said that the fight against corruption was on paper only and that today’s Bulgaria would not have a chance to join the EU.
In global indices of media freedom and rule of law, Bulgaria had steadily slid, and Bulgarians increasingly believed that everything around them was operated by invisible oligarchs and that Bulgarian democracy was actually a giant conspiracy of the elites against the population.
In a commentary on Bulgarian National Radio on July 18, journalist Stoimen Pavlov said that the Oresharski experiment had crumbled on its own even before it officially ended.
Pointing to the disputes over Bulgaria’s European Commissioner and over the Budget amendments, to the fact that Parliament had ceased to function and the strained relations between the BSP and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the report said, “it may be that the Oresharski government was just a meaningless buffer between an old and a new Government of GERB because of which the country has lost more than a year.”